Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 24, 2012

Raceland teens take anti-bullying message to heart

Mike James
CNHI News Service

RACELAND — A week ago, Raceland-Worthington High School Spanish teacher Zenaida Smith introduced some of her students to a statewide anti-bullying project and asked them if they wanted to get involved.

The project, sponsored by the Kentucky Center for School Safety, calls on students, faculty and people in the community to renounce bullying and work toward eliminating it both in and out of school.

Launched in conjunction with Kentucky Safe Schools Week, which is this week, the project involves signing an online pledge to stop bullying and then spreading the message to others.

The students, a couple of them at first and then their friends and their friends’ friends, embraced the plan and immediately made it their mission to bring as many others into the fold as possible.

Lacee Penix was the first, Smith said. She’d seen an interactive map on the KCSS website showing how many in each county had signed on, and Greenup County’s numbers put it in the yellow category — the lowest number of signatures. Seeing that, she and a couple of other students told every student and teacher who would listen and asked them to sign.

A core group of students made posters and plans to improve the county’s ranking. The students went so far as to station themselves at the gates before Friday’s football game, asking fans to devote a few minutes after the game to checking out the KCSS website. They also called other Greenup County schools to recruit them.

Their spontaneous support helped lift Greenup County into the highest rank, green, indicating more than 1,000 signatures.

The initiative is much more important than scoring points via a signature drive, the students say. “With all the stories in the national news, this is an issue that needs to be addressed,” said Kendall Baker.

“It’s a good way to start in the community getting people aware of the program and helping with the cause,” said Austin Baldridge.

The students, who span all grade levels and social groups — athletes, band members, service club members, cheerleaders and so on — don’t believe a lot of bullying goes on in their school, which is one of the smallest in the area. But they hope to set an example for students at other schools. “We’re like a family here. We want other students to be a family as well,” said Breanna Grubb.

Signing the pledge is a first step, they said. “We hope when people sign the pledge, it will be one of those things that will stick.” Baker said.

The awareness factor is exactly what the campaign is about, said KCSS Executive Director Jon Akers. It highlights four key areas — caring, understanding, respecting and educating — and asks signers to encourage others to take part too.

Traffic on the center’s website showed some 300,000 hits in one day after the campaign was launched, Akers said. Of those, about 80 percent were from educators surfing the associated curricular materials.

To Akers, that means teachers are looking for materials to use in their classrooms and for ideas to stimulate discussion of bullying.

“There is no set program or curriculum that is going to cure the problem. But what we can do is to stimulate conversation around the topic. That is what we are trying to do,” he said.

The Raceland students say they need to keep up the momentum. They can do that by talking to younger children, who then will grow into committed teens and take over the job with a new generation, said Doug Abrams. “It’s a cycle and we have to keep it going,” he said.

They have started already, drawing up some copies of the pledge and circulating them in classes at Campbell Elementary next door. On Wednesday they returned to Campbell to collect the copies and talk to the children. Their plan is to enter each child’s pledge to the online effort.

They also pointed out the drive isn’t limited to schools and anyone can sign it on line.

The more adults are aware of the issue the better, because typically children don’t talk about it, Akers said. If parents are clued in and can develop a close, responsive relationship with their children, the young people are more likely to come to them if they are being bullied, he said.

For more information about KCSS and the anti-bullying effort, visit kycss.org.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.